The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s (WHA’s) Dec. 10 board meeting focused largely on the evolving realities facing Wisconsin hospitals and health systems after months of escalating COVID-19 cases and the welcome news of promising vaccinations on the horizon, with updates from WHA leadership on legislative and public education initiatives aimed at relieving the financial and operational strains on hospitals stretched thin by the pandemic.
DHS Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm Thanks WHA Members
Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm joined the WHA board meeting to provide an update on the state’s COVID response. Secretary Palm thanked WHA and its members for their partnership in the ongoing battle against COVID before highlighting the agency’s specific initiatives related to testing, workforce availability and patient discharges to skilled nursing facilities.
WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding thanked Secretary Palm for the many programs DHS has stood up in short order to help Wisconsin’s health care system adapt to the surging demand COVID has created for care. WHA Board Chair and Aurora BayCare Medical Center CEO Dan Meyer stressed the importance of DHS and the Evers administration continuing to put their trust in hospitals to plan and execute necessary procedures to most effectively respond to local pandemic conditions.
Board member feedback to Secretary Palm centered on continued challenges related to discharging patients to skilled nursing homes, with one hospital leader noting that 24 patients at one facility in acute-care beds were awaiting discharge to nursing homes.
Secretary Palm noted that in addition to incentive payments DHS is making to skilled nursing facilities for patient intake, the agency is working with health care systems to identify new spaces for appropriate post-acute patient care.
Joining Secretary Palm from DHS was Deputy Medicaid Director Anna Benton, who provided an update on the state’s vaccine distribution plan, reviewing the “hub and spoke” model necessary to accommodate the ultra-cold storage requirements for Pfizer’s product and outlining the timing and prioritization of vaccinations. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna product, Benton explained, will be able to be delivered directly to providers upon approval.
Benton also detailed a federal long-term care pharmacy partnership program that will run concurrently with general vaccine allocations in which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention will partner with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to offer on-site COVID-19 vaccination services to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities once vaccination is recommended for them.
Benton cautioned approved vaccinators in Wisconsin to be conservative in their dosage projections, so as not to waste vaccine. “[The federal government] will be tracking carefully how much Wisconsin has requested and how much actually was used in any given week,” she said. “If suddenly there is a gap between those two numbers, they will start withholding our allocation from us.”
WHA’s Advocacy Strategy in Action
Borgerding provided an update on WHA’s advocacy philosophy, tying the association’s recent work to its renewed vision of serving as a unifying voice for Wisconsin’s hospitals and health systems and acting as a trusted and influential health policy advocate. His remarks highlighted specific examples of WHA influencing public behaviors and public policies to the benefit of its members and the health of the state and communities they serve.
WHA’s leadership in the development and expansion of the “Stop the COVID Spread!” coalition
has resulted in significant amplification of public health messaging focused on curbing virus spread. Since its launch in October, the “Stop the COVID Spread!” coalition has grown quickly to include more than 125 of Wisconsin’s leading health care, business and advocacy organizations. The coalition has to-date produced six public education announcements to encourage safe behaviors reaching an estimated audience of 24-23 million statewide viewers on television and logging more than 8.5 million digital impressions. The campaign’s reach has been extended by significant earned media, adding credibility to coalition messages through news media amplification.
WHA’s public policy influence has been seen in the adoption of coalition messaging by elected leaders on both sides of the political divide, many of whom have expressed support for or otherwise shared “Stop the COVID Spread!” messages in public remarks and on social media.
More directly, WHA called on elected leaders to unify on legislation that allocates significant resources to fight COVID-19. WHA Senior Vice President of Government Relations Kyle O’Brien shared details of a letter
sent to Governor Evers and the state’s legislative leaders on Nov. 19 highlighting the stress placed on the state’s hospitals and health systems by uncontrolled COVID-19 community spread across Wisconsin and suggesting specific legislative action to combat the pandemic.
WHA also hosted a virtual “incident command” briefing on Nov. 20 to provide Wisconsin legislators and the Evers administration, as well as their respective staffs, a direct-from-the source report of how COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm our health care system and its workforce in Wisconsin. COVID response leaders from five member hospitals and health systems across the state briefed more than 70 attendees on various challenges they are facing in both rural and urban settings.
O’Brien provided board members an update on leadership positions within the Legislature and summarized proposed COVID packages put forth by Governor Evers and Assembly Republicans, which include several policies advocated for by WHA. He also outlined the state’s budget challenges, which include a projected $2 billion budget gap over the next two years, as reported by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
A Federal Perspective
WHA’s federal contract lobbyist Dan Boston of Health Policy Solutions briefed the board on prospects for more federal COVID legislation and provided a general forecast of expected health care initiatives expected under from the Biden administration, including instituting a new COVID action plan while inheriting a pandemic response plan midstream.
Boston foresees support from the Biden administration for continued transparency, telehealth and value-based care, with workforce retention and expansion programming initiatives likely to be pro-union.